Youth Perspectives | Reflections from the Youth Town Hall: An Experience To Remember
by Clementine Utchay
Age 18, 1st Year Bachelor of Health Studies, York University
YouthREX Youth Research Assistant
On May 7, 2018, four YouthREX Youth Research Assistants attended a youth-focused town hall hosted by Laidlaw Foundation, TVO, For Youth Initiative, and Twitter Canada. There, leaders from three of Ontario's political parties described their platforms and answered audience questions. In this blog, Clementine Utchay shares her thoughts on the experience ahead of the June 7th Provincial Election.
The Youth Town Hall held on May 7, 2018, by the LaidLaw Foundation was an inspiring experience that I only wish more youth got the chance to witness.
The candidates for Ontario’s next premier – Andrea Horwath (NDP), Kathleen Wynne (Liberal), and Mike Schreiner (Green Party) – came together to answer the question, “What is the next premier of Ontario going to do for young people?” The topics discussed – affordable housing, mental health supports, investment in healthcare and child care, wait times in hospitals, unemployment, high tuition, funding towards transit and transportation, climate change, and sexual violence – only prove that youth voice should be taken into deep consideration when Ontario politicians make decisions that clearly affect our personal lives.
I had the opportunity to survey youth before the Town Hall and I was intrigued by the similarity in their answers to the question, “What brings you here today?”
Whether at the legal age of voting or not, they all seemed to agree on the fact that youth voice is critical during this election.
My experience with each individual leader was very different. I noticed Andrea Horwath’s answers were always personal, using real life stories of people she has met; for example, a woman who was considering pulling out her own tooth because she could not afford dental care, or mentioning her own son when discussing the lack of affordable housing. I appreciated the fact that Horwath understood that not all hospitals can be funded the same because different communities have unique needs. When asked about the high suicide rate among LGBTQ+ youth in Ontario, she acknowledged the need for support, and committed to bringing mental health counsellors into schools and communities. Horwath focused on advocating to bring real change in terms of healthcare, dental care, housing affordability, and “asking the wealthiest Ontarians and corporations to help us make the change that needs to happen.”
The crowd showed a lot of dislike for Kathleen Wynne, but she always held her composure. When asked the question, “You’ve been polling pretty low and there have been so many articles about you being unlikeable; are you desperate?” she answered, “I’m not desperate, I’m determined … You want to be liked, but that’s not the whole point. It’s about believing in something and standing up for it.” At another point, someone in the crowd shouted “shame” when Wynne was discussing York University’s ongoing strike and back-to-work legislation. Her approach was to always remain calm throughout the question.
Mike Schreiner’s attitude was always positive and hopeful throughout his interview. His focus was primarily on climate change and rising income inequality.
The topic that caught my attention most was when Mike Schreiner advocated to lower the voting age to 16 so that grade 10 students have the opportunity to vote, as they learn about politics in their civics class. I thought this was important, as I agree youth should be engaged in politics at an early age.
Lowering the voting age will ensure youth are engaged, know how to vote, and are affirmed in their choice to vote for a particular candidate.
Just like another youth I surveyed, Keisha, stated, “Youth are not engaged as much in politics, so they think voting is this big scary task for adults.” Youth need to be supported and encouraged when asking tough questions about our future, and offered support and encouragement when we do because we have the right to hold politicians accountable for their actions.
At the end of the day, I felt inspired and hopeful leaving the event knowing that we got a chance to voice our concerns on issues that matter most to us. Here’s to hoping that whoever becomes our new premier does not completely disregard the promises they made once they get into their position of power.